My scripture today is from John 6:56-69
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, in Jesus the Christ your Word became flesh and dwelt among us, to reveal your steadfast love and faithfulness. Jesus is the bread of life, who gave his life in obedience to your will, that we might come to know your redeeming grace for our life. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to receive him with thanksgiving, and strengthen our faith, that we might embrace him with true devotion. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
This morning we will be looking at the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, which has been labeled “The Bread of Life Discourse.” Jesus expressed that the miracle of his feeding the multitude was a sign that revealed that in him, God’s Word had become flesh. In addition, we looked at several ways in which these teachings of Jesus helps to define the significance of the Eucharist in the worship life of the church, and in particular, our proclamation and participation in Christ’s death for our redemption.
Today, the specific focus of the text centers on the choice of the community to receive the life that Christ has to give, or not. As our lesson indicates, “many of those who had followed Jesus to this point in his ministry, turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve if they also wished to go away, but they, and presumably others, continued as our Lord’s disciples, claiming through the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
As author Gail Ramshaw points out in her commentary, there are similarities to this event that are recorded in both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. And in both Matthew and Mark, Jesus questions his disciples about their faith, following his miraculous feeding of the multitudes. And in each case, the disciples come to grow in their faith and understanding of Jesus. As Matthew states it, “When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ The disciples said to one another, ‘it is because we have brought no bread.’
And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees! Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” In other words, do not listen to their word, but the Word of life incarnate
In addition, another parallel occurs in the Gospel of Luke, where, following our Lord’s death and resurrection, two disciples come to recognize our risen Lord in the breaking of bread. As Ramshaw points out, “It is as if in God’s gift of feeding, the faithful realize who Christ is and come to affirm their faith.”
Thus, the Eucharist is an important aspect of Christian worship, because it is truly a means by which we receive God’s grace for the strengthening of our faith. In, with and under the forms of bread and wine, our risen Lord continues to be present to us throughout the ages, revealing his gift of life for the forgiveness of sin and for our redemption.
However, if the Eucharist is a means by which we receive God’s grace for our lives, so is the proclamation of the Gospel. Listen again to Peter’s response to Jesus, when the twelve were asked if they also wanted to leave Jesus. Peter said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
In other words, Peter was stating that through the teachings of Jesus, they had come to recognize that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Word of God in human flesh. They had come to realize that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, and that through his proclamation, they were able to experience presence of the grace of God. They had come to realize through his words, God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life. These words of Peter are words to be taken to heart. They are words that proclaim that through the Gospel lesson that is about to be read, we are in the presence of Jesus, our Lord. They are words that proclaim that in the reading of the Gospel and the proper preaching of his word, God provides the means by which we might receive his grace for our lives.
Unfortunately, some of the newer, popular styles of worship tend to diminish the importance of the reading of Scripture and the preaching of the Gospel, in an effort to make worship more entertaining. This is truly unfortunate, for I believe that our text for this morning, as well as many texts from the New Testament, uphold the fact that the proclamation of God’s Word and the celebration of the sacraments are the way by which we encounter God’s grace.
But the question posed by our lesson for this morning still remains. We have heard our Lord’s words, as recorded in the Scriptures. We will soon receive through the Eucharist, what Jesus tells us is his body and blood, given for our redemption on the cross. Scripture tells us that hearing his words and receiving the sacraments are the means by which the kingdom of God is present to us in this time of worship.
Yet, these words also challenge us to come to terms with our faith. In this sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus makes an incredible claim. He says that he is the Bread of Life, who came down from heaven, who will give his flesh and blood for our redemption.
So many commentaries and sermons have been written and preached as to how the cannibalistic nature of this language may have led many who had been following Jesus to leave him and return to their normal routines. But I honestly believe that the people of that day would have known that Jesus was not speaking literally about consuming his actual flesh and drinking his blood.The hardness of his teaching, which confronted the people that day, just as it continues to confront the people of our day, centers on the identity of Jesus, and his claim to be the Word of God incarnate, or, as Peter proclaimed, the Holy One of God. Thus, the question that is put before us this morning, as it has been from generation to generation of those who have heard the Gospel, is this – “Do I really believe that Jesus is who he claims to be?”
And I believe that this is a question that never ceases to be asked. I, myself, have gone through moments in which my faith has been tested. Even pastors are confronted, again and again, with the question put to the disciples – do you truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, the very Son of God, and will you place your trust in him as your redeemer. Will you place your life into his hands…Do we simply believe in God….or do we Believe God?